PHOENIX — These days, a look at the top prospects in the Diamondbacks’ system starts in the majors leagues. Under normal circumstances, young players such as David Peralta, Ender Inciarte, Didi Gregorius, Nick Ahmed, Chase Anderson, Evan Marshall and Matt Stites might still be in the minor leagues. At most, a few would have moved up.
This has not been a normal year, of course. Injuries changed everything, giving the D-backs a first look at their future. Each is considered a potential major league contributor, some more ready — see David Peralta — than others.
At the same time, the system appears to be sufficiently deep, even in starting pitching after the offseason trades of left-handers Tyler Skaggs and David Holmberg.
The top prospect remains 99 mph-throwing Archie Bradley, and there is plenty of high-end pitching depth, some further from the majors than others.
Bradley had an interesting first month. His agent made a stink when Bradley was not recalled to join the rotation in late April, and he suffered elbow soreness a short time later that forced the D-backs to shut him down for about six weeks. He has recovered nicely and returned to form, going 1-0 with a 1.47 ERA in four starts at Double-A Mobile since June 26.
Bradley remains one of the top prospects in the minors — Baseball America ranked him No. 9 overall entering the season. His command and his curve ball are the only worlds left to conquer.
"He’s getting his feet back under him," said Mike Bell, the D-backs’ director of player development. "The last outing, the breaking ball had some shape to it. He’s starting to come along well."
Braden Shipley worked two-thirds of an inning in MLB’s Futures Game at Target Field.
Shipley, the D-backs’ No. 1 pick in the 2013 draft, was their only participant in the Futures Game for top prospects, and he pitched a scoreless two-thirds of an inning in relief. He is 5-6 with a 4.40 ERA at Low-A South High and High-A Visalia, with 89 strikeouts in 86 innings. Four of his last six starts have been quality.
Shipley’s fastball is in the low- to mid-90s, and he has what scouts calls a "plus-plus" changeup. A former shortstop, he is very athletic.
"I like the way he is throwing the ball. You don’t get caught up the with numbers at (hitter’s parks in) Visalia, Reno," Bell said. "What is the ball doing at the plate? How are they competing?"
Lamb has taken a big step forward this season, the first time he has been able to put remain healthy since being a sixth-round pick in the 2012 draft out of the University of Washington. He was slashing .317/.395/.565 with 33 doubles, 13 homers and 71 RBI at Double-A Mobile, leading the league in doubles, RBI and total bases (187).
Lamb missed about half of the 2013 season with hamstring and hamate bone injuries before showing well in the Arizona Fall League despite never having played above the Single-A level. He drives the ball into the gaps and is rising rapidly, close to challenging for a major league job.
"He’s driven in a lot of his runs late in games, during the important innings against good pitchers, the eighth-ninth inning type of guys with big velocity," Bell said. "That sets guys apart."
A sandwich pick in 2013 (36th overall), Blair is 5-4 with a 4.25 ERA in stops at Low-A South Bend and High-A Visalia this season. He has 125 strikeouts in 108 innings, leading minor league baseball in strikeouts. He has walked 35.
Blair, 6-foot-5 and 230 pounds, combines a fastball in the 92-95 mph range that has some sink and late movement to it. It is a heavy ball. A changeup is his second pitch, and his breaking ball is developing.
"He’s that horse. Whatever is happening … good, bad, whatever, he just keeps coming at you. He competes," Bell said.
Toussaint, the D-backs’ first round pick in June, has made only three appearances in the Arizona League, but he already has shown the electric arm that made him the No. 16 pick a month ago. Toussaint has nine strikeouts in four innings, although he also has walked four and given up four hits.
With some time off on either side of the draft, Toussaint’s velocity was naturally off a tick in his first few outings. Of course, it is all relative — he still was in the low- to-mid 90s. He topped out at 99 mph in high school with a plus offspeed pitch, and he brings the athleticism of a former shortstop to the mound.
"He has a really quick arm," Bell said. "It’s fun to watch him on the mound. He’s enjoying himself."
Drury was perhaps the least heralded of the five players the Diamondbacks acquired in the Justin Upton/Chris Johnson trade two winters ago, but if you can tell man by the company keeps, Drury is in good hands. His offseason workout partner? Colorado shortstop and MVP candidate Troy Tulowitzki. The two had the same high school coach. Drury led the minor leagues with 51 doubles at Low-A South Bend in 2013, and he has 30 doubles at High-A Visalia this season, second in the league.
Drury, a 13th round pick by Atlanta in 2010, signed out of high school and did his damage last season at age 21. His defense has improved, and his progress, along with Lamb’s, enabled the D-backs to deal Matt Davidson last winter.
"He’s young. He’s strong. He has kind of a freakish body. He moves well. He’s a big man and he carries it well," Bell said of Drury, who goes 6-foot-2 and 190 pounds.
Sherfy, who has been groomed as a late-inning specialist since his college career at the University of Oregon, is 4-0 with a 4.50 ERA in two stops this season, high-A Visalia and Double-A Mobile. He has 50 strikeouts in 34 innings. After a rough start following a promotion, Sherfy has been scored upon in only one of his last eight outings at Mobile.
Like Shipley and Blair, Sherfy has been on the fast track since being selected in the 10th round of the 2013 draft. His delivery has some moving parts, but he throws hard and has a slider with bite. Strikeout stuff.
"Electric, electric stuff," D-backs bullpen coach Mel Stottlemyre Jr. said. "He’s equipped with all the weapons to be a back-end guy. He sits at 95 (mph). A swing-and-miss slider. He’s got incredible arm speed and hand speed. He gets after it."
Barrett is 1-2 with 15 saves and a 3.50 ERA in stops this season at Double-A Mobile and Triple-A Reno, moving up the ladder as first Evan Marshall and then Matt Stites were promoted to the majors. He has 31 strikeouts and 19 walks in 36 innings. He has given up more than one run in one of his 10 outings at Reno.
Barrett, a third-round pick out of Arizona State in 2012, throws in the high-90 mph range and dominated two levels as a closer in 2013 after simplifying his motion and going straight from the stretch. He had 29 saves and 59 strikeouts in 52 innings last year, using a tight slider in his second pitch.
"Once they took away the windup and we started working out of the stretch more, I feel like I started to build up more power and more deception with my pitches. I just felt stronger out there," said Barrett, 6-foot-3 and 230.
Velazquez set a minor league record by reaching base in 73 straight games for low-A South Bend, a streak that is still active. He is slashing .306/.386/.461 and leads the Midwest League with 13 triples. He is second in the league with 40 stolen bases.
Velazquez is not big — 5-foot-8, 162 pounds — but brings a boundless zeal to the field every day. He hits leadoff for South Bend, and his plate discipline is improving, as his 46 walks suggest. His improved shortstop play this season gives the D-backs reason to believe he can stay there.
"He does not have to have a huge game to impact it with his energy," Bell said.
The Midwest League is generally considered a pitcher’s league because of its bigger ballparks, but you could not prove that by Palka, who leads the league in home runs (18) and RBI (70) while slashing .258/.334/.490 at South Bend. He has 102 strikeouts.
The biggest impediment to Palka’s advance is his position — he plays first base, and Paul Goldschmidt is under contract through 2019, including options. Palka, selected in the third round of the 2013 draft, was taken a pure hitter after being used in right field and as DH at Georgia Tech.
"He has a really quick bat … plus-plus power," Bell said.
Stryker Trahan, the No. 1 pick in 2012, has 15 doubles and 13 home runs at Low-A South Bend but is hitting only .195 while making the transition form catcher to outfield this season. Trahan remains a work in progress. … Right-hander Jose Martinez, 20, appeared in only two games before undergoing surgery to repair a stress fracture in his right elbow. Martinez, a Junior Noboa sign out of the Dominican Republic in 2011, pitches in the mid-90 mph range and has touched 99. The injury is similar to the one A.J. Pollock suffered years ago in spring training, and Pollock came back fine. … South Bend catcher Michael Perez is perhaps the best defensive catcher in the system, and he is slashing .252/.370/.420 with six homers. He was a fifth-round pick in 2011. … South Bend shortstop Joe Munoz, as second-round pick in 2012, missed six weeks with a forearm strain, but he has five homers and nine doubles in 37 games. He is a rangy 6-3, 190, and his arm would play at third base, too.